(Be forewarned, this is a rambling blog this week.)
Living in Egypt is an interesting experience. Rarely do we see homeless in Alexandria like we do in San Francisco, and the large amount of homeless in downtown Santa Rosa, but there are disturbing amounts of trash in the streets and malnourished donkeys and horses pulling extremely heavy carts through the traffic. Yet, there this sense of inclusion regarding humans that is very obvious with the Egyptians we encounter, and as they often include us in various ways of friendliness. There is a different feel for us throughout our days. At times I do get homesick and feel homeless here. Perhaps the way of American Public schools is so ingrained I have a difficult time with the lack of thorough communication and being in-the-know in certain areas. A feeling of equity. The feeling of inclusion.
The students are like any loving children who sense the teacher really cares and wants to work with them in their learning journeys. My colleague in first grade has been very inclusive, and like me she is a good old-fashioned Midwesterner at heart. (Well I am only at heart as I truly feel a Californian all the way since my family moved to Berkeley, CA when I was in third grade.) We have had a wonderful time collaborating. Most of the children can write to 100 and know facts to 5, yet in reading I see the American effect of reading without comprehension. A number of the children entered 1st grade with having read a lot of books but they do not truly comprehend what they have read. It is the “read the words, fluently” thought yet with no understanding of the words, their meanings, context clues, and answering questions beyond basic recall. This coming week of reading will find the four reading groups in my class concentrating more on partner reading and asking each other questions. They will be encouraged to ask their parents questions about the stories in their readers. Inclusion for the students to the point of involving the parents more in partnership of their child’s learning, and inclusion for the students in learning to work with students within their classroom community. Getting along and caring about the other person, human, homo sapiens!
We had a time change this week and moved our clocks back an hour last night. Did I sleep an extra hour? No, I was thinking about my classroom as that has become my every day focus. The American education I can bring to these children is crucial. Giving them the same I would give the students at home is paramount. I want them to understand humanity at its finest, caring and sharing, reading and questioning, communicating with each other, collaborating, no one student being the know-it-all, the one who has to make sure the other students know they did something or have single ownership. To be inclusive with the WE concept.
“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Please think about inclusion and how it pertains to you, your family, and your workplace.
I long for inclusion, partnering in change and decisions, having one of the voices, may I provide this in my classroom.
Living the Crazy Life,
The end of this week finds us with Open House out of the way and the opportunity to have met our wonderful parents, and being delighted with sharpened pencils. More on sharpened pencils soon. Now to share about my classroom, as promised this week. I have a very big room with two big white boards and a lot of floor space considering I only need 14 student desks. The class is evenly divided with 7 girls and 7 boys. No one is identified with a learning challenge. They all came in at minimum first grade level reading and math, four are near 2nd grade level in both reading and math. The writing is not at the usual California standard but they have not been taught with a consistent broken line format. Also you need to remember, these students go to Arabic lessons where they are learning to write in Arabic and from right to left starting in what we consider the back of the journal. I will interject what a shame it is that we do not have everyone of our students in the States taking a second language beginning in Kindergarten. Also we do not require students in the States to have actual lessons in proper grammar in writing and speech. Although the native language is Egyptian Arabic, the students have to learn the proper and formal ways of communication beyond the normal everyday communication. In fact, let me just go through what a typical week is for me.
We teach Sunday through Thursday. I have to be in my room at 8:00, instruction beginning at 8:15. There is one recess during the day and it is 9:50-10:05. I have a specialist 10:50-11:35 each day. Two days music, two days art, and one day of PE in this time slot. The specialist’s facilities are fully equipped for their areas of expertise. The PE is concentrating on swimming and the children actually are receiving swimming lessons in our campus pool. Lunch is 11:50-12:35. On Wednesdays, they have the other day of PE, 12:35-1:25. Sunday-Wednesday, 1:25-2:10, are the Arabic lessons. (They also receive homework from this class.) On Sunday – 2:20-3:00 is Library with the head librarian giving them a lesson on library skills. On Wednesday – 2:25-3:00 is Information Technology, again in the elementary IT lab. My teaching assistant brings our children in each morning, takes them to recess, brings them in again, takes them to and from all specialists and lunch, then walks them to the private van line and then to the guard gate for dismissal. Children must come and go through security guards upon arrival and dismissal.
Even though my students have private drivers, nannies, and may pay for private van service, they are considered from middle class to wealthy. Servants are a way of life in Egypt. Not only do people have cooks, servants, etc. we as teachers have quickly become accustomed to big and little luxuries of teaching here at Schutz American School. When we got a box of pencils in the US, we knew we needed to sharpen them for the students or find someone to help get them sharpened. Not here, they come from the factories sharpened. They are made in Pakistan and Germany, with the German pencils having little raised bumps for automatic grip. The beauty of sharpened pencils! The graphite is a higher quality, too. They do not break easily, stay very sharp, and no pencils without the center being in the center. True quality!
If I have a need, I simply email and within an hour, sometimes minutes, I have someone finding out what is needed. I wanted better chairs for the kidney-shaped table. Old chairs removed and nice little newly varnished chairs brought in within 24 hours. The students wash their hands in our classroom using real soap (no hand sanitizers allowed in this classroom). I needed hooks for their personal little hand towels. Within an hour of the request, they were installed. It is unbelievable. I need a date stamp, simply send an email to purchasing and voila, date stamp ordered! Copies – made by the copy center, just an email away.
On top of all of this is my awesome teaching assistant, Ingy. She is actually like a co-teacher. We partner in this classroom all day. Because she sees the students in the Specialists’ classrooms, and at recesses, she has been extremely insightful about behavior or patterns. When I have parent conferences, she helps if translation is needed. We actually conference together as she is my second pair of eyes and she can clarify any concern. We actually share one desk and computer! She is here from 8-4 every single day. I am very spoiled by her and the expertise she brings to the classroom. I can trust her to instruct in reading and math! English is mandatory on campus and she helps enforce this at all times. She always uses proper English, as well. No slang, ever!
You need to know all is not a bed of roses as outside my classroom there are the usual cliques and groups, such as is with any community. There are those who think they have certain expertise, or know everything or think an idea is new when it is very, very old and actually out-of-date, but that is in any educational setting. The good far outweighs the not-do-good. Guess with age and experience I have learned to just go on knowing what really works for kids and using those methods.
All of the above are joys and blessings about teaching in Alexandria at Schutz. You just have no idea how excited I was to find the boxes of sharpened pencils. As a side note, Jim had a test in PE and went early to get his boxes of pencils. You guessed it, he had to let me know right away he found them all nice and sharp ready to use. The little experiences of life…
Living the crazy life,
When we first thought about this move to Alexandria, Egypt the obvious questions came up in conversations. One was a reflection on the many countries we have had the privilege to travel through or live. Obviously, the distinct smells and fragrances of each place came clear in our minds. What would be distinctive about Egypt and in particular, Alexandria. Would it be a borage of the unsavory smells of poor hygiene as we have experienced, or would there be minimal according to what part of the city we were in, or would there be beautiful fragrances of flowers and blossoms, or the natural gift of the Mediterranean Sea and the sea breeze?
What a pleasant surprise! The people of Alexandria and other areas of Egypt we have been fortunate enough to visit have no smell or fragrance that is distinctive. As Americans, we all pride ourselves, well a large number of us, on the fact that we brush our teeth at least once a day, bath at least once each day, and slather ourselves with soaps, antibacterial concoctions, and heavy fragrances. (The Dude and I always wonder what someone is trying to hide when he or she is wearing a lot of fragrance.)
If you have followed my blog or read some of the earlier posts, you know how I feel about chemicals, so we use only naturally derived soaps, shampoos and conditioners, no antibacterial anything. If we cannot eat or drink it then it does not belong on our skin. Sadly, I do need to report the big corporations have invaded Egypt with the hand sanitizers and other caustic soaps, shampoos/conditioners, and tooth products. Luckily I brought “Fat and The Moon” tooth soap, tooth polish, and cream deodorant. I buy the olive oil soap at The Body Shop in the local mall, and I also brought Aesop’s hair products. We are set, but would our noses be set for what we would find here in Egypt?
Unbelievable cleanliness is what was found. Toilets have the little handheld toilet sprayers, even our apartments are equipped with these little handheld bidets. Showers have the hand held attachments for more thorough cleaning. Public toilets, our staff toilets, everywhere has the ability to actually get clean. There are no smells that are offensive as we stand in queues (lines), waiting at restaurants among the public, or walking down the street and shopping in a public market. Teeth may be missing, but the remaining teeth are clean. There is pride in personal cleanliness. Right now as I gaze out the screened door I see a long line on a balcony of beautiful white T-shirts gently flowing in the Mediterranean breeze and bright sun, bleaching naturally.
We all have to stop assuming Americans are the best at being the cleanest as we just may not be what we think we are, better than other countries we deem as Third World. Often they are ahead of us in many ways, including hygiene. I cannot stress how important it is to look at our world with a clear lenses not clouded with false perspectives, and there is a need to quit judging and making assumptions based on hearsay and the one-sided media outlets.
Please continue to follow along as I share our adventures throughout the great country of Egypt and our travels to other countries. The next blog will be about the students in my class; 14 delightful girls and boys who brighten each day with English, Arabic, French, proper English (transfers from the British school in the city), Turkish, and Spanish. (And yes, I am throwing in some German.) Amazing First Graders!
Living the Crazy Life,
You read the title correctly. It is 87 steps up to our apartment and 87 steps down to the ground. The Dude keeps reminding me it is good for the glutes. Well, some days I agree and others I don’t. This is a campus of stairs. You have to remember that Schutz American School is having its 90 year anniversary this year. We are thrilled to be offered housing here on campus. Let me tell you why.
As we look at the buildings around us, we see highrises made from bricks and concrete. Many do not show any sign of air conditioning and as we can go out on our front porch or our bedroom little balcony we can see families in small living rooms huddled around a small TV either watching shows or playing video games. We live in spacious well-maintained apartments with maid service, laundry service, and the cafeteria directly below on the bottom floor. Jim’s office is a minute walk away and my classroom is two minutes not counting the stairs up to the second floor. Again, teaching in a spacious well-maintained classroom with huge windows, a sweeping view of the soccer field and children’s playground, as well as the huge covered basketball court.
This evening’s walk provided thinking time about the ability to have a secured and clean walk as Alexandria is a very old city, much older than the United States itself. It has very old buildings, many people, garbage on the streets and many live animals. Yet is has state of the art hotels, restaurants, and a magnificent library. We are living in history older than any book, any story, all unimaginable. Today’s trip brought that out as we learned about the history of the land we were enjoying outside of Alexandria. It used to be flooded by the Nile River and vineyards used to abound. There is rumour that Cleopatra may have been buried in the area. The people we work with know the history, proudly, of the land they inhabit. As we visited with different native coworkers, we learned so much. And after our little trips provided by our school, we come back to the comfortable apartments while those outside the walls of our campus are living quite differently. Many are living in very nice condos and large homes with servants, cooks, and drivers while others are living in very small condos with only family members to provide for the large family and they walk to work or take crowded vans/buses/trams. They actually walk in the narrow streets as they are obstacles, open manholes, animals tied up, and falling bricks on the sidewalks. Yes we are used to constant horns as drivers are warning the pedestrians to get out of the ways of be hit.
Taking time to listen, learn about history, observing a culture, habits, and hearing tales of long ago is inspiring. I look at my students here as living heritage of ages very long ago. I wonder whose ancestors may have been part of a pharaoh’s family or part of the slaves who worked here. The walk this evening brought more questions I will have to continue to ask as we have conversations with our colleagues. From the students to the parents to the colleagues and workers here at SAS, this is a tremendous opportunity to broaden perspectives and learn more about other cultures.
The 87 steps are worth the adventure of living in a new but ancient land. Are my glutes better and tighter, who cares! I do know my mind is getting the best workout with the learning I am receiving by listening to those who are truly a living history. We are blessed.
Living the Crazy Life,